Sunday, November 21, 2010

A string theorist learns basic solid state physics

The Big Bang Theory seems to be getting better all the time, both in terms of humour and scientific content. This weekend we watched The Einstein Approximation (Season 3, Episode 14). Sheldon is obsessed with understanding how the electrons in graphene are "massless". His brain is stuck and so he seeks out a mind numbing job that he hopes will remove this mental block [inspired by Einstein working in the Swiss patent office, hence the title]. Eventually, he realises the problem was that he was thinking of the electrons as particles rather than as waves diffracted off the hexagonal lattice formed by the carbon nuclei. The Big Blog Theory has a good discussion about graphene.
I could not find a clip on YouTube of the relevant scenes where the physics is discussed. Let me know if you know of one.
A synopsis is here.
Finally, I wonder if this episode helped sway the Nobel Committee?

1 comment:

  1. I loved this episode, but as soon as Sheldon reached for the peas to represent the electrons (about five minutes into the episode), I shouted, "But they're waves, not particles!!" He must have been very sleep-deprived to have neglected this important feature... However, without this oversight, we wouldn't have that hilarious ball-pit scene.